UT physicists and material scientists team up with European counterparts to look for solutions to global energy problems

UT physicists have joined the European Fusion Development Agreement and will be part of the world’s largest technology project implemented under it. The fusion reactor that will be built in the course of the project is intended to show the feasibility of fusion power.

In the beginning of 2007, Estonia became party to the pan-European programme of fusion research under the EFDA (European Fusion Development Agreement). UT researchers have organised a single Estonian fusion research consortium, which includes the representatives of various Estonian research groups, and will take part in implementing the European nuclear programme EURATOM as a full-fledged member.

Estonia will participate in the programme through the Euratom-Tekes Association, a professional body uniting Finnish fusion researchers. Estonia’s Consortsium is made up of the research teams of the UT Institute of Physics, the UT Faculty of Physics and Chemistry and the Institute for Chemical and Biological Physics located in Tallinn. The first joint seminar of Estonian and Finnish fusion researchers was held at the end of August 2007 in order to provide a opportunity for the researchers to exchange views on the fusion research carried out so far and the current technology projects in Estonia and in Finland, and to discuss future cooperation in the field of fusion energy.

Work under the EFDA will make it possible for Estonian scientists and engineers to take part in the implementation of the world’s largest technology project, the ITER. The fusion reactor that will be built as a result of the project is intended to demonstrate the feasibility of fusion power. Fusion is a thermonuclear reaction in which light nuclei combine into heavier ones, releasing vast amounts of energy that can be used as a new source in power generation. This means that Estonian researchers will have an opportunity to make a contribution to solving a global energy problem that concerns all of humanity. In addition to benefiting from access to high-tech information and from technology-related cooperation under the EFDA, the partner associations are eligible to a grant from the European Commission amounting to 20% of the costs incurred by the association in its activities.

The cooperation between the European Commission and the Associations is organised by the EFDA, which among other things is also responsible for three so-called ‘Close Support Units’ (CSU) that the European fusion research community has at its disposal. These are large-scale experimental facilities open to researchers from all over Europe and from abroad. One of them, the Joint European Torus (JET), the largest tokamak in the world (situated in Culham, the UK) has awarded a research grant to a plasma diagnostics project of the Gas Discharge Group of UT Faculty of Physics and Chemistry. This testifies to the importance of the contribution of Estonian researchers to global fusion studies.

The work of Estonian research teams will focus on a variety of fields, from developing radiation-resistant materials and plasma diagnostics to the development of computer network technology required for the modelling of plasma processes and materials. The Gas Discharge Group of the UT Department of Physics, who are active in plasma research, are developing real-time diagnostics methods to monitor processes that take place inside a fusion reactor by laser-induced plasma spectroscopy. The researchers of the Ion Crystals Laboratory at UT Institute of Physics are developing new radiation-resistant materials suitable for use in the construction and in the diagnostics of future reactors. Investigations in the Laboratory focus on how radiation and high-energy particles (including fast and heavy ions) cause structural defects in materials, and on the processes that can be used to prevent such damage and to extend the lifespan of future reactors. Researchers are also looking for possibilities to use ultra-sensitive mass spectrometry to analyze the composition of tritium, the fuel of fusion reactors.

Additional information: Dr. Madis Kiisk, Head of Estonian Fusion Research Unit, UT Institute of Physics, phone: +372 737 4780, %20madis [dot] kiisk [ät] ut [dot] ee

Anneli Maaring
UT Press Representative
phone +372 737 5683; +372 515 0184
%20anneli [dot] maaring [ät] ut [dot] ee